It's the lie that gets you

The SRA has prohibited a former Irwin Mitchell paralegal from working in a legal practice, after he missed a court fee payment, and tried to cover up his mistake.

The paralegal was dealing with a personal injury matter where he had to pay a court trial fee by 1 October 2019, or else the case would be struck out. He mistakenly neglected to do so.

On 8 October, the paralegal spoke to the defendant's solicitor, who mentioned the upcoming trial scheduled for later that month. The paralegal told the solicitor that he had not received the Notice of Trial. But he must have had a brown trouser moment when he checked the file, as he found the notice was there. 

Rather than holding his hands up, the Irwin Mitchell paralegal destroyed the Notice of Trial and emailed the defendant's solicitor still maintaining that he had not received the document. 

The next day the paralegal tried to dupe the court by filing an application, along with a signed statement, stating that he had not received the Notice of Trial. However, on 14 October the paralegal told the firm he had been deceitful, and he resigned.

The matter was brought before the SRA. The paralegal admitted to the regulator that he had misled the defendant's solicitor and given the court a false statement.

The SRA held that the paralegal's conduct made it "undesirable for him to be involved in a legal practice because it was dishonest", but noted that it was "an isolated incident" and the paralegal had "expressed regret and remorse" and cooperated with the investigation.

The regulator prohibited the paralegal from being employed by a solicitor or firm without the SRA's prior permission, and ordered that he pay costs of £300.

The SRA's decision (a Section 43 Order) is not a total ban, as a firm could apply to the regulator for permission to employ the paralegal. The SRA could then approve such an application if various conditions are met, such as the firm closely supervising and monitoring the employee.

The SRA has opted for Section 43 Orders in other recent cases involving dishonest conduct by paralegals, including a forged email, a backdated letter, and false claims for overtime.

“This was an isolated incident," an Irwin Mitchell spokesman told RollOnFriday. "The SRA took no action against the firm and all matters were satisfactorily resolved with the affected client.”

Tip Off ROF


Junior 05 March 21 09:15

He shouldn't have done it, but coming forward after two weeks and by the sounds of it long before he was truly caught should be pretty strong mitigation. When you see the stuff senior people get caught doing and not banned, for a paralegal to have his career ended over this is really disproportionate. It's one strike and you're out for the junior half of the industry, and completely different rules for the rest.

Senior 05 March 21 09:42

I agree Junior @915. Management in my MC firm have got away with much more than you see trainees and paralegals getting struck off for. There are so many examples of juniors panicking under pressure and then trying to cover up errors but where there was no malice. But Management in my firm were caught red handed fraudulently reworking performance records of partners who had fallen out of favour and they threatened and tried to destroy the partner who uncovered it. They set up a fake investigation which was also uncovered. Management  had to apologise in a public spanking but nothing happened to any of them. It was made clear to us that we should not ask questions about it and now the same management lecture us about the firms “values”. Isn’t this sort of behaviour much worse than the panicked maybe overworked and poorly supervised junior? The standards for senior partners should be so much higher than paralegals especially when they have bad motives from the start and are not trying to cover up errors that in themselves were not motivated by malice. Why do the seniors get away with it?

Anon 05 March 21 09:49

I actually feel sorry for this paralegal.  Obviously what they did was wrong but the supervision must have been pretty shit for them to feel like they had to do what they did.  I remember when I first started my current job 5 years ago, any mistake got you a bollocking from the supervisor followed by being marched into the partner's office for a further bollocking.  This didn't make mistakes not happen (especially as training was crap), it just meant that people went to great lengths to hide them.

Luckily now things aren't as bad, compliance issues and mistakes are still treated like you've murdered the first born of every partner in the firm but measures were eventually put in place to stop mistakes happening in the first place.

The point I'm making is that if your juniors are too afraid to go to you with mistakes, maybe look at the reason why as opposed to putting all the blame on them.


Not Much Sympathy 05 March 21 09:54

I really do not understand this narrative that it is wrong to punish junior fee-earners for clear acts of dishonesty. This person outright lied to the court, that quite simply makes them unfit to practice.

I completely agree that some of the sanctions handed out to more junior staff seem disproportionate next to some of the punishments given for much greater transgressions by more senior individuals, but the solution is to appropriately deal with the latter, not excuse the former.

Ultimately the law is a stressful profession and there are some pretty unpleasant law firms out there, but if somebody is not able to deal with that pressure while upholding basic professional duties, then they are either in the wrong workplace or the wrong career.

bingo 05 March 21 10:50

I once made a mistake and fessed up straight away. Was told to find another job asap. This is why  an innocent mistake becomes a dishonest cover-up, because there is no tolerance for even a minor mistake. It is much easier for partnership to kick out "one bad egg" who got caught trying to hide a mistake than for the partner to help you deal with that mistake. Of course, when a partner bollocks it up, they can't afford to have to deal with that so find a junior to blame (e.g. "you should have known what I asked you to do was not correct"). 

Dot Cotton 05 March 21 10:54

He shouldn’t have done it, he fu**ed up and there is no excuse in that regard.

But it says an awful lot more about the firm, the supervision he had and the culture of the place, than it does about him in my opinion. Yet I’m sure, as per usual, any mitigation of toxic atmosphere and neurotic partners threatening to destroy their underling’s careers for making cock ups would have fallen on deaf ears.

Still a salutary lesson to come out of this - no matter what duress you are under, just hold your hands up. Don’t expect the regulator to be of any use to you whatsoever.

Bang to rights 05 March 21 11:12

I've been on this board before criticizing the SRA in similar matters.

Here I cannot fault their logic.

While other posters are right about culture, management and compliance, the article suggests that this was, in fact, one bad apple and the sanction appears justified.


However, now that this incident has happened, will the SRA hold the firm to account regarding improving their systems and processes to ensure that in future the opportunity for further bad apples to operate is minimized?

Different Matters 05 March 21 13:13

People should draw a distinction when comparing this junior's conduct to senior management.  What occurred here affects the client's interests.  Whatever heinous things senior management might do, they're only going to be brought up to task on the same basis that it affects client matters negatively. 

Senior Management can also rely on "untainted careers" of not getting caught in their defence to mitigate, which juniors haven't had the time to build up. 

Not excusable that the SRA just find easy targets to bash, but there's some reasoning to it.

Me&I 05 March 21 14:00

Another example of why paralegals should not be running litigated cases without close supervision 

Anonymous 05 March 21 14:53

IM: shit firm, shit blame-culture, shit work, shit people, shit career prospects, shit brand. I was part of a London firm that was sucked (and I use the term advisedly) into the IM vortex. Left now, thank God. I have formed a support group for those traumatised by their time there.

Anonymous 05 March 21 15:54

I have worked in three law firms. At the first one, where I trained, most of the partners were either sociopaths or psychopaths (or both), and you would quite literally sh*t yourself at the prospect of approaching a partner to tell them about a mistake. Even as a trainee who would in most normal circumstances be expected to make mistakes because that is surely all part of learning. At my current firm and last firm, happily there have genuinely been 'no blame' cultures where partners themselves openly talk about mistakes they have made in the past, which obviously sends out the message to more junior staff that it's 'ok' to make mistakes. As long as you own up to them and don't try to cover them up, of course. Because most mistakes can be rectified quite easily. The result is that I've never had any fear about admitting to mistakes (let's face it, we all make them occasionally) in the several years now since qualifying as a solicitor. It's all about the culture, stupid!! :-)

MissorMs 05 March 21 17:18

A few issues raised here. Firstly, surely a solicitor had conduct of the matter and should know what is going on and secondly, where are the systems to record incoming post and dates of court deadlines. 


Fosco 05 March 21 17:24

Good to see the poor bloke wasn't hit with some astronomical costs order as some have been.

anon 05 March 21 18:27

Such a shame to see this. Everyone knows it is wrong. No argument there. However, I do wonder about the culture at some firms and whether he felt able to fess up to his mistake without fear of career suicide. How much of this plays a part?

Anon 06 March 21 11:21

Terrible story.   Really makes you stop and think about how low this profession can sink.  

(I mean having to work for IM).  

Anon 08 March 21 09:52

I remember when I was a Paralegal at Slater & Gordon and I missed limitation on a personal injury claim.

I was berated for about a month, called an idiot repeatedly, and put on a performance plan. I eventually left for a better firm, for more money, and better treatment.

The month I spent being shit on paled in comparison to the ban I would have faced had I tried to lie my way out of it. So, if you are a Paralegal and you make a mistake, 'fess up and take the hit. You will no doubt be bollocked, but the firm has insurance. Likewise, if your supervisor can't appreciate the integrity in admitting and owning a mistake (as opposed to lying), it's not a firm you want to work for. The worst that can happen is that you're sacked, in which case you can find another job. 

Anon 08 March 21 18:16

I had the displeasure of working for this firm for some time and really feel for the guy as he clearly felt unable to fess up to the mistake, which speaks to the culture at IM. 

Yes, he messed up, but his actions show how difficult he perceived it to be to speak to his supervising associate or partner. There is a toxic blame culture at the firm and I had first hand experience of it/witnessed others talking about it. 

I agree he shouldn’t have lied, but his actions are genuinely telling / are ultimately a product of IM - a firm which lacks an consistent support or any fundamental concern for wellbeing. 

All incoming post should be checked by a supervisor and key orders/dates logged to avoid / mitigate human error, so I do think the firm failed this chap also. Just my two cents. 

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